Iran’s Nukes, Flash Mob Criminals, The Brain’s ‘Evil Patch’ And No More Mail On Saturday: Wednesday Morning News Roundup 2-6-2013

Here is a collection of some of the stories that Personal Liberty staffers will be keeping an eye on throughout the day. Click the links for the full stories.

  • Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his nation is already a nuclear state. But don’t worry; the Iranians don’t want to attack Israel.
  • The million-dollar man: scientists say that 60 to 70 percent of the human body can be built, thanks to technology.
  • Flash mobs are becoming a major problem in New York City as violent, thieving mobs continuously descend on neighborhoods and businesses.
  • A German neurologist claims to have found an “evil patch” that shows up as a dark spot in the central lobe on X-rays in the brains of many killers, rapists and thieves.
  • The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service says it will stop delivering mail on Saturday in a bid to trim $2 billion from its annual cost. Packages will still be delivered six days a week.

Check back for updates, news and analysis throughout the day. Like us on Facebook.

EFF Petitions SCOTUS on DNA Dragnet

The Electronic Frontier Foundation urged the Supreme Court recently to require law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before forcing individuals to give DNA samples upon being arrested for a crime.

In an amicus brief filed Friday in Maryland v. King – a case which challenges a Maryland mandate that requires all arrestees to submit to DNA sampling whether they end up being convicted of a crime or not — EFF argues that DNA collection is a major intrusion of privacy.

“Your DNA is the roadmap to an extraordinary amount of private information about you and your family,” said EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. “It contains data on your current health, your potential for disease, and your family background. For government access to personal information this sensitive, the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant.”

EFF has filed briefs in other cases regarding the practice of collecting DNA from all arrestees, as 27 other States and the Federal government have laws similar to Maryland’s requiring that the DNA of anyone taken into police custody is logged.

“Let’s say you were picked up by police at a political protest and arrested, but then released and never convicted of a crime. Under these laws, your genetic material is held in a law enforcement database, often indefinitely,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. “This is an unconstitutional search and seizure.”

The Court, which has becoming increasingly sensitive to matters involving law enforcement and technology in recent years, will likely hear arguments in Maryland v. King later this month.

Company Makes Surveillance-Proof Technology Accessible To All

The wireless, always-on society that has become the norm in the 21st century offers boundless convenience in how we communicate, learn and store new information. The convenience of mobile technology also opens users up to privacy threats from government, criminals or any number of people with malicious intent. One company is working to help mobile technology users retain the convenience of instant communication while remaining confident that their privacy will not be breached.

The start-up tech firm Silent Circle introduced a surveillance-proof smartphone app in October that made making secure phone calls and text messages from a smartphone easy enough for the everyday user. The company also promised that the encryption software included no backdoors for snooping government agencies emboldened by Patriot Act-era wireless surveillance permissions.

The company offers a privacy service for both Android- and Apple-based smartphones, beginning at just $20 a month, that includes protection for calls, texts, email and video on the smartphone.

On the Silent Phone website, the company explains how the service works:

Each user will receive a special Private Encrypted 10-digit phone number individual to them. Silent Phone allows you to easily integrate existing contacts and favorite information on your device to provide complete functionality securely. We built Silent Phone and our network to be true Device-to-Device encrypted security –no one can listen in, no one can wiretap , no one but you and the subscriber on the other end has access –not us, not anyone. Everyone wants to know “How did you do it?” –how is it possible that Silent Phone can make clear crisp Video & Voice calls over 3G 4G or any other older network –100% encrypted with almost no latency? Our custom-built PBXs, servers, software and algorithms were built and designed by our All-Star team of “who’s who” in the world of VoIP, Encryption and Secure Software.

Because the encryption is peer to peer, not even Silent Circle holds a key to the information sent over the network. Users can also set messages to self-destruct after they are received. The company also recently expanded its capabilities so that users can securely send emails and documents securely without the fear of interception.

Chicago Is Becoming A City Of Victims

The anti-gun crowd skewered Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clark Jr. when he suggested that residents in his area should arm themselves to take personal protection into their own hands in light of ongoing law enforcement cutbacks. A little more than an hour south in notoriously violent Chicago, residents are dealing with a different message from law enforcement.

It has been noted that Chicago is a veritable gun-control utopia. The city is intolerant of gun stores, armed private citizens in public, assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and shooting ranges. Draconian gun-control provisions even make it a hassle to keep a firearm in a residence for home protection. Daily headlines also proffer that not only does Chicago epitomize gun control at its finest, but it is also a criminal cesspool.

When he was interviewed about the controversial public service announcement that urged residents in his area to learn how to properly use a firearm for self-defense, Clark said he was simply looking for creative ways to help residents cope with lagging first responder response times.

“People are responsible to play a role in their own safety, with the help of law enforcement,” Clarke said. “I’m here to do my part, but we have fewer and fewer resources. We’re not omnipresent, and we have to stop giving people that impression.”

“After sitting down and thinking about this, I’m thinking ‘Hey, I’ve got an untapped reserve over here, and it’s the public,”‘ Clarke said.

The lack of resources available to Chicago-area law enforcement is similar. Police officials in the city announced this week that officers will no longer respond on scene to reports of criminal property damage, vehicle thefts, burglaries or other crimes in which the suspect may no longer be at or near the scene. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says the move will free up about 44 officers per patrol shift to prevent shootings on the streets.

“I don’t mean to be flippant here, because I’ve been the victim of a burglary at least three or four times,” he told CBS Chicago. “I’d rather have the officer on street, where he can prevent the shooting.”

Unless the suspect is on the scene or the victim of a crime feels his life is in immediate danger from criminals, the caller will be directed to give officers details over the phone or at district law enforcement stations.

“You’re upset; you’re violated. It’s happened to me. So, you’ve got to weigh it, and I’m making tough decisions,” McCarthy said. “I’m making a tough decision, but I’d rather have that officer on the street, doing something to prevent the next shooting than — honestly — making somebody feel better, because they’re responding rather than talking to them over the phone.”

In Chicago, where 91.5 percent of shooters escaped charges in 2011, a “no snitch” code emboldens the criminal underground. The city’s criminals now know that cops are spread so thinly that they will no longer respond in person to certain criminal complaints from the largely unarmed law-abiding populace, no doubt a further confidence-booster for the ill-intentioned.

McCarthy claims the Chicago Police Department’s decision is a proactive move that will prevent future shootings. Clarke admits that law enforcement is unable to protect every citizen from criminal activity and urges responsible firearm ownership.

Whose city would you rather call home?

Killing Americans, Big Sis For President, A North Korean Attack Fantasy And The Coming Pot Tax: Tuesday Morning News Roundup 2-5-2013

Here is a collection of some of the stories that Personal Liberty staffers will be keeping an eye on throughout the day. Click the links for the full stories.

  • The Department of Justice’s white paper that outlines the Barack Obama Administration’s justification for ordering targeted drone strikes against American citizens has been leaked. Read it here.
  • North Korea has released a creepy video of a fantasy missile attack on an unnamed U.S. city. The video is set to the music of Michael Jackson’s peace anthem “We Are The World.” Did we mention it’s creepy?
  • If you thought you were in bad financial shape, consider this: The Zimbabwean government announced that it has just $217 in the bank. Of course, there’s a story (rather, a cautionary tale) behind that. Zimbabwe is a classic example of how fiat money can cause rampant hyperinflation.
  • As States lighten up on their pot laws, the Feds are looking at plans to put a hefty tax on recreational weed. There is also talk about legalizing industrial hemp.

Check back for updates, news and analysis throughout the day. Like us on Facebook.

Student Loan Debt Could Cripple Economy For Decades

The price of a college education has been climbing at a substantially higher rate than inflation for years; meanwhile, the value of a college degree has been falling. That’s why thousands of debt-laden college graduates are facing the worst economic bust to plague the United States since the housing bubble burst.

A recent report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, entitled “Why Are Recent College Graduates Underemployed?”, refutes the oft-repeated theory that college educated Americans have the potential to earn substantially higher lifetime incomes than their uneducated peers. In fact, the report indicates that many college-educated Americans are woefully underemployed because “the growth of supply of college-educated labor is exceeding the growth in the demand for such labor in the labor market.”

From the report:

  • About 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests requires less than a four-year college education. Eleven percent of employed college graduates are in occupations requiring more than a high-school diploma but less than a bachelor’s, and 37 percent are in occupations requiring no more than a high-school diploma;
  • The proportion of overeducated workers in occupations appears to have grown substantially; in 1970, fewer than one percent of taxi drivers and two percent of firefighters had college degrees, while now more than 15 percent do in both jobs;
  • About five million college graduates are in jobs the BLS says require less than a high-school education;
  • Comparing average college and high-school earnings is highly misleading as a guide for vocational success, given high college-dropout rates and the fact that overproduction of college graduates lowers recent graduate earnings relative to those graduating earlier;
  • Not all colleges are equal: Typical graduates of elite private schools make more than graduates of flagship state universities, but those graduates do much better than those attending relatively non-selective institutions;
  •  Not all majors are equal: Engineering and economics graduates, for example, typically earn almost double what social work and education graduates receive by mid-career;
  • Past and projected future growth in college enrollments and the number of graduates exceeds the actual or projected growth in high-skilled jobs, explaining the development of the underemployment problem and its probable worsening in future years;
  • Rising college costs and perceived declines in economic benefits may well lead to declining enrollments and market share for traditional schools and the development of new methods of certifying occupation competence.

Meanwhile, over the past five years the average amount of student loan debt accrued by college students has risen by 30 percent to $23,829. More than half of student loan holders have currently deferred student loan payments, which is only a temporary solution for struggling degree holders.

Some economists expect the American economy to struggle for decades under massive student loan debts because student loans are almost impossible to discharge in bankruptcy and the government will collect by garnishing the paychecks and tax refunds of those who fail to pay. Furthermore, being underwater on student loans can harm a person’s credit score, making it more expensive for them to get loans for homes or vehicles.

As more and more Americans struggle to pay back student loans while underemployed, the economy as a whole will suffer, since the purchases of first homes and other durable goods are put off indefinitely.

The POTUS Election Cost $7 Billion, And Obama’s Still Campaigning

The Federal Election Commission announced recently that the 2013 Presidential campaign, the first since the Supreme Court ruling that granted corporations freedom of political speech, was the most expensive in history.

According to the FEC, a cursory review of the 11 million pages of campaign funding-related documents from the 2012 election revealed that candidates, parties and outside groups spent a combined $7 billion to sway voters in the months leading up to Election Day.

Estimates from the agency show that the candidates spent $3.2 billion, making up almost half of the total spending. The political parties spent $2 billion, and the remaining $2.1 billion was reportedly spent by privately funded political action committees. Despite the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that empowered super PACs in the 2012 election year, the FEC analysis shows that traditional PACs outspent super PACs, $1.2 billion to $950 million.

“It’s obviously only an estimate,” FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub told POLITICO. “It’s really hard to come up with ‘the number.’”

President Barack Obama, who has long decried corporate funding in political campaigns, was called out by ProPublica in an article last month for reversing on promises to avoid accepting money from special interests.

From the article:

When President Obama told supporters that he would morph his campaign into a new nonprofit that would accept unlimited corporate donations, the announcement set off a familiar round of griping from campaign finance reformers.

The creation this month of Organizing for Action, which will promote the president’s second-term agenda, appears to be the fourth reversal by Obama on major money-in-politics issues since 2008.

The President, who embraced PAC funding during the campaign for a second term, has used the Citizens United ruling that he criticized to his benefit in shifting his campaign apparatus to a nonprofit group called Organizing for Action. The organization will use donations to push the President’s second-term agenda with television commercials and events as if the Presidential campaign never ended for the Obama camp.

Iranian Space Program, Obama’s Shotgun And More Gun Hysteria: Monday Morning News Roundup 2-4-2013

Here is a collection of some of the stories that Personal Liberty staffers will be keeping an eye on throughout the day. Click the links for the full stories.

  • Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he’s willing to “sacrifice” himself for his Nation’s scientists and be shot into space.
  • The White House found a photo of President Barack Obama shooting skeet. It’s awkward.

obamaskeet_s640x407

  • The Army now has access to tiny drones which measure just 4 inches by 1 inch and can deliver full-motion video and still images. These are likely coming to a police station near you.
  • The madness continues: An Arizona high school student was suspended for having a picture of a gun on his computer.
  • Karl Rove and the Republican establishment want the Tea Party to disappear.

Check back for updates, news and analysis throughout the day. Like us on Facebook.

Majority Of Americans: Government Is A Threat

The biggest threat to American freedom, according to a majority of Americans, is not global terror or foreign tyrants, but the Nation’s Federal government.

A recent national survey of 1,502 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 53 percent of Americans think the Federal government poses the biggest threat to their personal rights and freedoms, 43 percent disagree and 4 percent don’t know.

Republicans were most likely to point out the government threat to freedom, with 76 percent in the group reporting feeling threatened by the state. Gun ownership also impacted whether or not the Federal government was viewed as a threat: 62 percent of gun-owning respondents felt threatened, while only 45 percent with no guns agreed.

The number of Democrats who felt threatened was still surprisingly high at 38 percent.

Overall, only 26 percent of those polled said they were confident that government would do the right thing all or most of the time; 73 percent said the government was likely to do the wrong thing in most cases.

Despite feeling threatened, only 19 percent of respondents said they were “angry” at government; a larger number (58 percent) said they were simply “frustrated.” Only 20 percent of those polled expressed feelings of content with the Federal government.

Pew also found that 68 percent of respondents don’t like Congress and just more than half blamed the legislative branch for America’s many problems.

Government Transparency And Toothless FOIA

The Freedom of Information Act was enacted in 1966 to ensure the American public access to important information about the actions of the Federal government and its agencies. FOIA provides that any person has the right to request Federal agency records as long as disclosure doesn’t threaten national security. It also mandates that agencies voluntarily release certain information. But government transparency activists claim that the government has increasingly thwarted attempts to access information via FOIA to cover up its abuses and failures.

President Barack Obama boldly proclaimed during his first term that his would be “the most transparent” Presidential Administration in history and, along with Attorney General Eric Holder, urged Federal agencies to handle FOIA requests with a “spirit of cooperation.”

Unfortunately, in the years since Obama took office FOIA has become a less-than-effective means of getting information pertaining to government affairs because of myriad homeland security and “executive privilege” exemptions used to block FOIA inquiries. This was demonstrated recently when the American Civil Liberties Union sought information about the Justice Department’s policy regarding warrantless GPS tracking. Justice complied with the request to provide interdepartmental memos related to the issue, but the document was so heavily redacted that only a little more than two full pages of the 57-page document were readable. The information on those pages was mostly inconsequential and already public record.

In 2009, Holder issued new guidelines to the heads of Federal agencies meant to streamline their FOIA process and make more information available. But a recent audit from the National Security Archive found that 62 of the 99 government agencies have done nothing to update FOIA regulations; 56 of them had not even updated the policies since the passage of the 2007 OPEN Government Act. The 2007 act required “that agencies reform their fee structures, institute request tracking numbers, publish specific data on their FOIA output, and cooperate with the new FOIA mediators at the Office of Government Information Services.”

Beyond not making a priority of enforcing openness, the Obama executive branch has also allowed agencies to repeatedly thwart FOIA requests using the deliberative process privilege, which allows for executive branch communications to be kept secret. Though unrelated to FOIA, similar methods were used to keep Congress at bay as lawmakers attempted to determine how culpable Holder and other Administration officials were in the deadly failures of the controversial Fast and Furious gun running scheme.

Last week, a group of open-government activists called on lawmakers to update FOIA, not only to rethink some of the 250 to 300 loopholes that emasculate the act but also to include 21st century reforms that could get information to the public in a timelier manner.

“Outdated agency regulations really mean there’s an opportunity here for a second-term Obama to standardize best practices and bring all the agencies up to his day-one openness pledge,” said Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive.

Beyond Congressional initiatives to do away with some of the loopholes that allow agencies to thwart FOIA requests, the National Security Archive recommends the following steps be taken to increase government transparency:

  • Joining the FOIAonline portal, a government-wide, one stop shop for requesting, tracking, and proactively posting digital versions of FOIA’d documents. (Currently only six agencies have joined.)
  • Embracing direct communications with requesters to focus, narrow, and clarify requests rather than rejecting outright requests not perfectly constructed.
  • Ending the practice of using fees to discourage requests. All news media (online or print), students, teachers, new media, bloggers, tweeters, and online-only publications should be granted fee waivers. (Recouped FOIA fees pay for just one percent of all FOIA costs.)
  • Substantially reducing the use of discretionary withholdings, such as the b(5) “deliberative process” exemption. Congress mandated that documents under the Presidential Records Act -concerning decisions made at the highest level- cannot be withheld under the b(5) exemption after the president leaves office. At the very least, this standard should also apply to documents requested under FOIA.
  • Preventing requests from becoming lost in “consultation” and “referral” black holes where multiple (sometimes endless) reviews and re-reviews can cause extreme delays in releases or even lost requests. These black holes can be avoided by sending requests for consultation and/or referral as rarely as possible; informing requesters of the status of their requests (even if they are being processed by a different component or agency); and continuing to track the progress and ensure the completion of FOIA requests, even after they have been passed along to other parts of the government.
  • Proactively posting documents of likely interest to the public, such as the Department of the Interior’s response to the 2010 Deep Water Horizon Gulf oil spill, as required by the 1996 e-FOIA Amendments.

According to the Archive’s FOIA coordinator, Nate Jones, the Obama could still make good on his transparency promise.

“These forgotten regulations and FOIA backslides demonstrate that President Obama needs to install a Transparency Bulldog in the White House whose sole responsibility is to track, cajole, and force federal agencies into complying with the law of the Freedom of Information Act and ensure that the President’s commitments to openness are not ignored by the agencies he leads,” he said.

Obama, however, may be less willing to tackle the issue of FOIA reform today than he was on his first day in the Oval Office. A review by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) released in December showed that Federal agencies were being sued for information under the act more times during the first Obama term than were during the final four years of the George W. Bush Administration. The suits result when the agencies either take an unreasonable amount of time to produce information requested under FOIA or outright deny access.

In all, the FOIA lawsuits jumped by 28 percent, with the most drastic increases in suits being filed against the State Department (111 percent), Department of Agriculture (67 percent), Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Veterans Affairs (60 percent), as well as the Department of Justice (50 percent).

TRAC also noted that the suits were coming from a political diverse group of organizations: “Among the most active were attorneys associated with Judicial Watch, a conservative group and liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and its local affiliates. Also very active were attorneys for Public Citizen Litigation Group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and attorney David Sobel.”

Transparency groups concede that Congress should intervene to make Obama’s transparency promise a reality.